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"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine"
-------Lord Byron (English poet, 1788-1824)-----
Putin says Russia is not behind attack on ex-spy
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement by Moscow in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Putin spoke to reporters on Sunday, 2 weeks after Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious in Salisbury, southern Britain. They are critically ill in a British hospital.
The British government says a Russia-developed nerve agent, Novichok, was used in what it calls an assassination attempt.
Putin said Russia has destroyed all its chemical weapons and does not have such nerve agents.
He said it would be nonsense for Russia to embark on such an escapade ahead of a presidential election and the soccer World Cup.
Putin said Moscow is ready to cooperate with London and take part in the necessary investigations.
The March 4th incident has strained bilateral ties. The 2 countries have expelled more than 20 of each other's diplomats.
N.Korea demands Japan change its attitude
North Korea is warning Japan that sanctions and pressure will prevent dialogue between the 2 countries.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary on Saturday that Japan "may not get a ticket to Pyongyang" if it continues actions that are ill-natured and without discretion. It said Japan is desperately calling for sanctions and pressure because it is upset by recent trends.
Japan has been calling on the international community to apply maximum pressure on the North while the leaders of the United States and South Korea plan to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea's official news media have recently been toning down the strong language they've used against the administrations of US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Abe apologizes for document alterations
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apologized for the Finance Ministry's tampering with government documents.
Abe spoke to reporters on Monday upon leaving the Prime Minister's Office.
He described the situation as one that may erode public trust in the entire administration.
He said he feels keenly responsible, and wants to apologize to the Japanese people.
Abe said he is acutely aware that the public is casting a critical eye on the matter, and that he will bear this in mind during its investigation.
Abe said he expects Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso to fulfill his responsibilities. He said he wants Aso to do his utmost to see that there are no similar recurrences, and to reform the ministry to regain public trust.
Rally in Tokyo demands Abe Cabinet resignations
Demonstrators have gathered in front of the Diet building in central Tokyo, demanding that the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe step down.
Many people responded to a citizen group's call for a rally on Monday evening. The demonstrators are chanting that the Abe Cabinet should resign.
A 63-year old man said he is angered by the altering of Finance Ministry documents. He added he believes this is not simply something done by bureaucrats and that the whole story must be revealed.
A 68-year old woman said she cannot tolerate a situation in which people have repeatedly been lied to. She urged the Abe Cabinet to take responsibility by having all members resign.
Tax chief resigns amid controversy
The Japanese government on Friday approved the resignation of Nobuhisa Sagawa as Commissioner of the National Tax Agency after more than a year of controversy over the sale of a plot of state-owned land. Sagawa was in charge of state property at the Finance Ministry until last July.
He became caught up in the scandal relating to the sale of the property by a regional Finance Ministry bureau to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka in 2016. The sale price was 7.5 million dollars less than its market value, sparking allegations of cronyism.
After the scandal broke in February last year, Sagawa appeared in the Diet to answer questions about the deal.
He insisted that regional bureau officials did not negotiate a price with Moritomo. The emergence of a voice recording cast doubt on Sagawa's claim.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife was initially set to be the honorary principal of an elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen planned to open last April. Abe says neither he nor his wife was involved in the deal.
Last week the scandal was back in the spotlight after a newspaper claimed documents of the sale had been altered. The report alleged some parts of the documents submitted to the Diet last year were different from the originals.
After becoming Tax Agency chief last July, Sagawa did not hold a press briefing, despite numerous requests.
Protests were recently held in front of the National Tax Agency building and in other places to demand Sagawa's resignation.
South Korean envoys leave for US
South Korean envoys, who returned from their visit to North Korea, have left for Washington to brief the US administration on their talks with the North's leadership.
A South Korean delegation, led by the head of South Korea's National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, met North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Monday.
Both sides agreed to hold a 3rd inter-Korean summit on the south side of the truce village of Panmunjom in late April.
On Thursday, Chung and National Intelligence Service Chief Suh Hoon, who also visited Pyongyang, departed for Washington from Incheon airport near the capital Seoul.
The 2 officials are expected to meet White House national security adviser H. R. McMaster and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo. They are scheduled to come back to Seoul on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Chung said he thinks conditions are now right for talks between the United States and North Korea.
On Thursday, Chung also stressed the need to quickly make circumstances for a dialogue between the US and North Korea.
In explaining to lawmakers of governing and opposition parties on Wednesday, however, President Moon Jae-in said that denuclearization is the final goal and it is difficult to immediately achieve that.
Observers say all eyes are on how the US side will respond to the South Korean explanation as the administration of President Donald Trump has demanded the North make clear its intention of denuclearization.
Opposition presses govt. over land sale document
Senior officials of Japanese opposition parties say the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should resign if a newspaper report that a government document regarding a controversial land deal has been altered is true.
The parcel of state-owned land in western Japan was sold to a school operator in June 2016 for about 7.5 million dollars less than its appraised value. Finance Ministry officials said the discount was to offset the cost of removing waste buried at the site.
The ministry disclosed to lawmakers an internal document on the sale after the issue surfaced in February last year.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported last week that some parts of the document were different from the papers drawn up when a local office of the ministry concluded the transaction.
Senior officials of political parties discussed the issue during an NHK debate program on Sunday.
The secretary-general of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, Tetsuro Fukuyama, said it is unthinkable that official documents would be rewritten after being formalized. He said if the media report is true, that could amount to a crime.
Representatives from opposition parties urged the government to look into the allegation quickly.
Keizo Takemi, a senior member of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, said his party will look into the matter and clearly explain it to the people.
Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova says she's happy to know that she will receive the gift of an Akita dog from Japan.
People in the Japanese prefecture of Akita have offered one of the dogs to the 15-year-old gold medalist in women's singles at the PyeongChang Games to commemorate her victory.
Zagitova was asked about the move during a post-Olympic public relations event in Moscow on Thursday.
She replied that if an Akita dog comes to her side, that would be good news.
After the event, she revealed that she had been informed that she will receive a female Akita from Japan.
She said she will think about a name for the dog and she will be sure to find time to take the dog for walks.
Zagitova was all smiles and said thanks in Japanese for the gift.
Zagitova told Japanese media during the Olympics how she fell in love with the Akita breed when she saw photos in a magazine while training in Niigata, Japan shortly before the Games. Zagitova said at the time that she had asked her parents to get one for her if she did well at PyeongChang.
There is a group dedicated to preserving the breed in the city of Odate in Akita Prefecture. A representative of the group, Yasutami Togashi, said he wants to send one to Zagitova to make her dream come true. He said that a redheaded puppy may suit the athlete. He also said he hopes to see her come to Odate, along with her Akita.
Olympic athletes meet fans in Tokyo
A crowd of more than 1,000 fans gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday to honor Japanese medalists as well as other athletes who competed in the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games.
Team Japan returned home on Monday with a record haul of 13 medals.
The Japanese Olympic Committee held the fan event after a ceremony to disband its delegation to South Korea.
500-meter speed skating gold medalist Nao Kodaira was the captain of the athletes' delegation. She said the high medal count is the result of everyone's hard work and strong competitiveness. She added that the team is grateful for the warm encouragement they received from many people.
The athletes and coaches then took the podium separately in each sport.
Yuzuru Hanyu, who won gold in figure skating for the 2nd straight Olympic Games, said he is very happy. He said his medal is the result of staking not just his skating life, but his future on a win. He thanked the people who have been cheering him on.
The women's curling team won bronze, bringing Japan its first medal in the sport. Skip Satsuki Fujisawa and other team members reproduced for fans their unique calls during matches.
Ivanka Trump to attend PyeongChang closing
US President Donald Trump is sending his daughter Ivanka to Sunday's closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Trump's announcement on Wednesday said Ivanka, an advisor to the president, will lead a delegation that includes White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and the commander of US forces in South Korea.
Ivanka Trump said in a statement that she is honored, and looks forward to congratulating Team USA and celebrating all that the athletes have achieved.
She is scheduled to dine with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Friday.
A senior US government official denied the possibility that she might meet North Korean officials.
The high-profile delegation, following Vice President Mike Pence's attendance at the opening ceremony, is seen as Trump's attempt to stress America's close alliance with South Korea.
Onodera: US F16 dumps fuel tanks into lake
A fighter jet from the US Misawa Airbase in northern Japan developed an engine fire on Tuesday morning and offloaded fuel tanks into a lake.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera disclosed the mishap to reporters based on a report from the US military.
He said the engine fire broke out immediately after the F16 jet took off from Misawa Airbase in Aomori Prefecture, at around 8:39 AM. The pilot offloaded 2 external fuel tanks into Ogawara Lake to the north of the airbase before returning to the base at 8:42 AM.
Onodera said there have been no reports of injuries or damage on the ground.
He said he presumes the 2 fuel tanks were released for safety reasons.
This is the latest in a recent series of accidents involving US military aircraft in Japan.
Onodera said he will hear explanations from the US military about why the incident happened and he will request measures to prevent recurrences.
Follow-up on Self-Defense Forces helicopter crash
Japanese Self-Defense Forces officials investigating last Monday's helicopter crash suspect the main rotor head could have broken in mid-air.
A Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter crashed into a house in Saga Prefecture, western Japan, and burst into flames. Two personnel on board died and an elementary school girl injured her foot while escaping from the house.
The officials say they found fragments of the main rotor head at the crash site as well as at 2 other locations about 300 meters and 500 meters east of the site. Those parts are vital to the aircraft and connect rotor blades to the chopper.
They said the old parts were replaced with new ones during maintenance work shortly before liftoff.
They said workers assembled the parts in the same way as the manufacturer.
They are investigating what caused the rotor head to break.
The officials also say that damage caused by the crash was found at 7 other locations.
Parts from the helicopter pierced through the roof of a nearby house southeast of the accident site.
Oil from the aircraft stained playground equipment at a kindergarten 150 meters north of the site.
The accident also caused damage to rain gutters of houses, the wall of a warehouse and an agricultural greenhouse.
No one was injured at these locations.